Facing a cash crunch, Prairie Skyline Foundation seeks CHEDA's help

Mike Christopherson

Kay Hegge, longtime leader of Prairie Skyline Foundation and champion of restoring the old Cathedral on Ash Street in downtown Crookston, is asking the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) for some financial assistance, some in the form of a loan and some in the form of a “grant,” so that PSF can stay on track with its local match thresholds tied to a 2018 $206,608 grant from Minnesota’s Legacy Fund to put a new roof on the former church and take other measures to shore up and stabilize the structure.

PSF owns the old Cathedral as well as the old Methodist church a half-block north on Ash Street.

CHEDA is acting as the fiscal host for the state grant. In a June 8 letter to CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, Hegge indicated that PSF is short on funds to pay bills tied to the grant and is having a hard time completing the local match requirement. At the time she wrote the letter, Hegge said that there was just over $34,000 in the account managed by CHEDA, and that a bill for $59,000 was forthcoming from a subcontractor working on the sacristy roof.

The project is half finished, she stated in her letter. When it’s 75% complete, the State will conduct a site visit, which would release another $20,661 in funds from the grant. Mortar test results and the proposed replacement of coping stones would release another $20,661, she states. Two more milestones would release more grant funds totaling around $62,000. But, Hegge wrote, there is still much work to be done on the steeples and main roof.

“Of course, you will have guaranteed payback from the Legacy fund disbursements,” Hegge states in her letter to Hoiseth.

Part of the PSF match for the grant involves refinishing the old Cathedral’s hardwood floor, which includes lifting it and cleaning under the subfloor. Once that is finished, Hegge said the building will be opened for public tours. The thinking is that if people see the progress being made, it could boost PSF’s fundraising for the project, which Hegge said has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of the flooring project is $13,500, she wrote in the letter. For that, Hegge is requesting a “grant” from the $300,000 the Crookston City Council allocated to CHEDA last year, with the idea that CHEDA would strategically invest some or all of the dollars in projects that boost the local economy. Finishing the floor, Hegge wrote, would speed up the release of $41,322 in Legacy grant dollars.

Background, CHEDA Board concerns

The city council in early 2018, as part of the local match as PSF sought the Legacy grant, agreed to cover the cost of extending water and wastewater service lines to the old Cathedral and waive building permit fees for the rehabilitation project. The commitment was contingent on PSF securing the grant, which it did, and also the successful completion of the project.

At the time, Hegge was envisioning a community center of sorts at the site, with a special focus on youth and art.

Also at that time, Hegge detailed the project by breaking it into five phases, with the first phase including the highest-priority work that would take place first. Much of that phase involved needed roof repairs, as well as addressing the north and south sacristy floors, which were described as having a “collapsed” floor structure. When the grant was awarded later in 2018, Hegge again noted that part of the local match was to address the floors early on, along with the roof.

At a special CHEDA Board meeting last week, Hoiseth presented Hegge’s request, and it was met largely with caution and concern. Hegge was not able to attend because she had fallen inside the old Methodist Church and broken her hip. The board did not take action on the request, and they’ve invited Hegge to attend their next scheduled meeting on July 21. Hegge told the Times she would like to see a special board meeting scheduled sooner than that, but has been told by Hoiseth that might not be possible.

In detailing the situation to his board last week, Hoiseth said PSF noted the “likely cash flow crunch in a very short period of time” and that it “will become a problem” within the next 30 days.

Asked by board member Craig Morgan if PSF authorized repairs they knew they lacked the funds to pay for, Hoiseth said PSF “overextended themselves.”

Some board members and Mayor Dale Stainbrook wondered why money was being spent on the floors – and interior repair – when the exterior repairs, mostly the roof, are not yet complete.

“This is really not in our wheelhouse,” added Kurt Heldstab, CHEDA Board president.

While saying he welcomed a chance to hear from Hegge in person on the matter, Morgan didn’t mince his words in indicating his level of concern with the PSF request. When he wondered out loud of Hegge simply assumed CHEDA would cover the shortfall, Hoiseth said he didn’t think that was the case.

“Well, this is close to not good,” Morgan responded. “I’ve got other words for it, but I’m not going to use them.”

Hegge on the mend

Hegge is recovering at home after quite an ordeal and quite a scare on June 8 and June 9. She was in the old Methodist Church and she fell and could not get up. City council member and PSF Board member Clayton Briggs noticed her pickup parked in front of the old church on the morning of June 9, a Tuesday, and he recalled it had also been there the night before. Sensing something wasn’t right, he checked inside the building and found Hegge, in her words, “in a fetal position on the cold, wet, dirty cement floor.” She had been there for 18 hours, unable to move.

Briggs summoned an ambulance and found something to warm Hegge with. She calls him a hero and credits him with saving her life.

Hegge has led volunteer efforts at the old Cathedral for years, whether it’s been getting rid of tons of pigeon feces or any number of other clean-up and repair-related tasks. Volunteer labor was to be a big part of the floor repairs, too, she said, and with her unable to help, she said it’s even more critical that the flooring portion of the project get finished, both to free up more grant dollars but also to give the public a chance to see the inside of the building. A $13,500 grant from CHEDA would help tremendously, she said.